Six weeks ago, The Atlantic was calling Alexi Giannoulias a “toxic” candidate. Broadway Bank had just been shut down by federal regulators. President Obama and his advisers stood on the deck of the ship of state, watching to see whether Giannoulias was worth wasting an expensive life preserver on, or whether he should be a good sport and just drown.
“They assume that if Giannoulias drops steadily in the polls, he will get the hint, being ambitious but not to the point of blind arrogance,” Marc Ambinder wrote. “If Giannoulias keeps his standing in the polls to within a few points of Mark Kirk, there’s a good chance that Obama will campaign for his old friend."
Well, Giannoulias is now within a few points of Mark Kirk. Obama’s not campaigning yet, but he is sending his second-in-command, Joe Biden.
Is Giannoulias a better candidate than he was six weeks ago? Well, let’s put it this way: he’s a better politician. He’s not only learned how to sling mud at his opponent, he’s learned when to sling it.
Most candidates, upon discovering evidence that a rival had fudged his military record, would wait until the end of the campaign, when voters are making their final decisions. Remember the revelations about George W. Bush’s drunk driving arrest? They came out on the Thursday before Election Day, cost Bush the popular vote, and almost the presidency (when asked about the provenance of the reports, Bush called the timing "interesting").
Giannoulias couldn’t wait that long. If he’d sat on his tittle-tattle about Kirk, he might not have been around in the fall. In late May, just before the military records story hit the mainstream media, the White House announced it was sending B-teamers David Plouffe and Jim Messina to campaign for Giannoulias. Now, the White House is sending Biden -- on a day Biden was already scheduled to campaign for Seals -- to campaign in what the Washington Post’s Chris Cilizza is calling “the nastiest Senate race in the country.”
Obama is an expert at profiting from another politician’s failings. He was able to get into politics because Rep. Mel Reynolds was accused of having sex with a 16-year-old girl. When Reynolds resigned from Congress, Obama’s state senator, Alice Palmer, ran for his seat. So Obama ran for Palmer’s seat, and won. When Obama ran for the U.S. Senate, two of his rivals were brought down by embarrassing revelations in their divorce papers.
Rooting out an opponent’s embarrassing past worked for Obama. He’s apparently happy to see it working for Giannoulias, too.